Nov 24 2008
Forrest Rowland and I got out early this morning with the intention of birding Burton’s Island, but we had made it only a few meters down the trail when my cell phone rang. It was Michael O’Brien, calling from Cape May to say that Mark Garland and a Cape May Bird Observatory group that Mark was leading on a Delaware Waterfowl Weekend trip had just found a Black-bellied Whistling-Duck at Silver Lake in Rehoboth.
We briefly considered pressing on toward Burton’s and assuming that the duck would hang out for a while, but a few moments of reflection on the possibility of missing the duck entirely caused us to do an about face and make the five minute drive to the lake.
Silver Lake is famous among local birders for its Canvasbacks and other diving ducks that crowd it during the winter months. It also has a pretty good track record of turning up rarities. We arrived at the lake shore and found Mark and his group, but the duck had gone.
It didn’t take us too long to re-find it, though–it was hanging out with a flock of several dozen Mallards at a house that sported a nice collection of bird feeders. The duck got up and flew a quick lap around the pond, letting out its trademark squeal.
Coming back in for a landing, the bird deployed its landing gear–its plus-size webbed feet. They look as large as maple leaves, don’t they? Soon, the duck either tired of the Mallard crowd or ate its fill, or both and took off for the east part of the lake again. There, we found it loafing against a dock under a huge magnolia tree.
Later, it hopped up on the railing near a gazebo, displaying its lack of bands or other obvious hallmarks of captivity. Of course, it could still be a released or escaped bird, but the increasing number of records in the mid-Atlantic would seem to point to natural origin, though in this species, it’s a little hard to define exactly what’s natural. I’m still not sure of the exact origin of the burgeoning numbers in Florida.
We went back to Mark’s group and thanked the for making and sharing this nifty visitor. Mark Garland is second from the right, wearing a ball cap and a brown-blonde beard. Steve Fleming, the first to spot the whistling-duck, is in the middle, wearing a black cap and a silver beard. Celebrity birder and waterfowl enthusiast Steve Carell is at center right.
OK, it’s not really Steve Carell. I think his name’s Ivan, actually.
Below is a Google Map showing the 4 areas where I saw the Whistling-Duck during two visits today. They’re numbered 1 to 4–that’s the order I suggest you check them in. Click on the map for a larger view.
Thanks, Mark, Steve, Michael and all who helped share this bird.